SUNFLOWERS: A BRIEF HISTORY
The Sunflower is a very popular plant. One of only four major crops of global importance native to the United Sates (blueberry, cranberry and pecan are the other three). Colonists and explorers sent it back to Europe as a popular garden flower.
Its black, brown, yellow and green disks can grow as much as ten inches in diameter, making the native Sunflower rather impressive as a commercial seed crop. Incas considered them to be the image of their sun-god and wore golden disks with its likeness that were later coveted by Spanish conquerors. Sunflower seeds were sacred food for the Plains Indians, who placed bowls of them on graves to sustain the dead in their afterlife journey.
An ever increasing interest in the timeless beauty of ornamental Sunflowers as a bouquet bloom and a lucrative industrial market, requiring several million acres of land devoted to Sunflower oilseed production yearly, is a good indicator that our beloved Sunflower is a real national treasure!
DIGGING DEEPER: ETYMOLOGY
Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower)
The Sunflower derives its name from the Greek for (sun) "helios" and (flower) "anthos". Named for the way the Sunflower turns its head toward the sun.
Thought to have originated in Mexico and Peru, Sunflowers are one of the first cultivars to have been grown in the United States. They have been used for more than 5,000 years by Native Americans, who enjoyed the seeds as food an oil source, and the flowers, roots and stems for varied purposes including a pigment dye. Spanish explorers brought Sunflowers to Europe, subsequently introducing them to neighboring European countries. Currently, Sunflower oil is one of the most popular oils in the world.
Sunflower seeds are the gift of the beautiful Sunflower center. The flower produces grayish-green or black seeds encased in tear-dropped shaped gray or black shells that prototypically feature spectacular black and white stripes. A handful of sunflower seeds supply significant amounts of vitamin E, magnesium and selenium.
Many new Sunflower cultivars have been developed in the past ten years, with single and double flower forms and bicolored petals.